Secret Report Calls into Question NYPD Defense Against Illegal Surveillance Allegations

February 8, 2012, 4:19 pm | Posted by

The New York Police Department and their commissioner Raymond Kelly have been in hot water the last few months for a series of controversies about training and surveillance decisions regarding Islam.

Adam Serwer sums up what we know already:

Last week, an NYPD internal strategy memo discovered by the Associated Press added one more line to this disturbing trend. The report documents a deliberate strategy of targeting Shiite Muslims across the Northeast based on their religion, including surveillance and covert infiltration of mosques that were not under investigation as specific threats.

The document is the clearest proof yet that the department was violating both city law and the FBI guidelines they claimed to be following, and it appears to disprove Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly’s public assurances that NYPD doesn’t make surveillance decisions based on religion and only goes “where leads take [them].”

As counter-terrorism experts have said time and time again, community partners are law enforcement’s most important ally in the fight against violent extremists. Unfairly casting suspicion on and violating the civil rights of our Muslim-American neighbors only erodes the trust necessary to catch terror plots before they are realized and feeds the extremists’ recruiting message that America is a hostile place for Muslims.

Rooting out these kind of counter-productive practices and messages is essential at all levels of law enforcement if we want to get this right.

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A Response to Thomas Peters’s Defense of Rick Santorum

January 6, 2012, 11:57 am | Posted by

Rick SantorumThat John’s piece this week outlining the Catholic case against Rick Santorum garnered a response from conservative Catholic blogger Thomas Peters is unsurprising. That Peters’s argument is so thin, however, is a little disappointing.

The biggest problem with Peters’s rebuttal is that he missed the ultimate point of John’s piece. While Peters reads it as a “theological assassination” of Santorum in defense of President Obama, John wasn’t trying to make the case for any other presidential candidates. He doesn’t even claim that Catholics can’t or shouldn’t vote for Rick Santorum.

As John makes clear in his conclusion, he simply wants to caution against anointing Santorum as some kind of ideal Catholic candidate. And to make his case, he lays out a series of issues on which Rick Santorum is publicly and clearly at odds with the position of the Catholic bishops and the Church at large. These are factual and historical points that exist regardless of either John’s or Peters’s opinions about any of these issues.

A review of Peters objections:

Immigration
Peters dismissively acknowledges that Santorum has “room to grow” on this issue, but then goes on to blame the President and Democrats at large for not reforming the system in the last three years. As I explained before, such comparisons are distractions from rather than rebuttals of John’s point, but I’ll humor Peters for a minute.

While Catholics have a very legitimate critique of this administration’s record on overzealous deportations, when it comes to the kind of comprehensive reform the Catholic bishops support it’s not any kind of secret which party has prevented it from passing over the last ten years.

I’d particularly encourage Peters to revisit the vote count for the DREAM Act last December, which was filibustered by 36 Republican and 5 Democratic Senators. The Catholic bishops, of course, emphatically supported the bill, and Rick Santorum has attacked his rivals over the issue.

But Peters “doesn’t see where…Santorum is saying something different” than the bishops on immigration reform. I find this statement puzzling, as John quoted Santorum openly acknowledging his disagreement with the bishops on this issue word-for-word in his original post:

“If we develop the program like the Catholic bishops suggested we would be creating a huge magnet for people to come in and break the law some more, we’d be inviting people to cross this border, come into this country and with the expectation that they will be able to stay here permanently.”

Poverty, Inequality and Financial Reform
Peters doesn’t even really try to engage with the substance of John’s points here — instead he just makes vague taunts about “lefty Catholics” at large and FPL’s “agenda”. As our “agenda” on these issues is pretty much the same as the Bishops, Peters should probably take his complaints up with them. I’ll just reiterate the facts:

The Bishops expressed serious reservations about Paul Ryan’s budget because of its refusal to raise adequate revenues, the disproportionate cuts to programs that protect the poor and vulnerable, and the unfair way it put the burden of Medicare cost-cutting on seniors. Santorum full-throatedly endorsed Ryan’s plan and proposed one of his own that would do the same things.

The Church is concerned with reforming the kind of unregulated capitalism and financial misconduct that led to the global recession. As a Senator, Santorum voted for deregulation that helped precipitate the crisis, and he continues to get his facts wrong on the cause of the meltdown.

Rick Santorum has adopted Randian “makers/takers” language and derided calls for more progressive taxation levels as “redistribution of wealth.” The Pope doesn’t even know this is supposed to be a dirty word.

Workers Rights
Here Peters just asserts that the issue is complex, but his view lines up with Santorum’s so there’s apparently nothing to see here.

Climate Change and the Environment
Peters’s bizarre lecture on the actual motivations of the environmental movement aside, the facts again here are simple. The Pope is concerned about the dangerous consequences of not addressing climate change; Rick Santorum thinks it’s a liberal conspiracy. The Catholic bishops celebrated the EPA’s recent mercury ruling; Santorum condemned it.

Torture and War
This one is a mess. Once again, rather than rebut the substance of John’s argument, Peters has to change the subject and introduce specious arguments. Accuse “the left” broadly of refusing to criticize President Obama? Check. Compare torture to drone assassinations without any explanation of the point? Check. Reduce Iranian foreign policy to a choice between bombings and nuclear apocalypse? Check. Excuse Santorum’s Catholically indefensible policies because they at worst prove “Santorum cares most for the safety of American citizens and interests”? Check.

Again, simple point: Santorum supports torture; Church doesn’t. Pope cautioned against Iraq war; Santorum championed it.

Peters ends with a long complaint that John didn’t bring up abortion and marriage. Unfortunately, that’s because they’re not related to the ultimate point of John’s post. Peters is, of course, right — there’s no debate about whether Santorum is in line with the Church’s opinions on these issues. He’s pretty vocal about his stances, and religious and political commentators don’t seem to have any trouble recognizing and noting them.

John’s goal was to help bring to light some of the issues that get less attention as “moral issues” in the media — and help political commentators avoid making the mistake of suggesting that examining a candidates’ positions on abortion and marriage is sufficient to determine whether they’re representative of Catholic political thought.

Now, I recognize that Peters and many other conservatives might argue that these two issues are so important that they essentially overwhelm a candidate’s divergent views on any other topics. Making tough calls between imperfect candidates is the nature of our two-party democracy, particularly for Catholics, and I wouldn’t have any problem if Peters’s contention just boiled down to that personal judgement.

To go further, I don’t really care if Peters wants to argue this is the only acceptable voting standard for Catholics at large, or that the only appropriate candidate for Catholics to vote for Rick Santorum because his Catholic “pluses” outweigh his Catholic “minuses.” The U.S. Bishops voting guide, Faithful Citizenship, asks all Catholics to weigh that exact kind of judgment, and such an opinion is certainly a reasonable one worth debating.

Even further, Peters is welcome to join Rick Santorum and argue that the Church is wrong on these issues — that any of these particular policies are matters of prudential judgement in which he and Santorum have reached different conclusions than the Church hierarchy. I would probably disagree with many of their conclusions, but I don’t think it would make either of them “bad Catholics.” Discrediting and demeaning my fellow Catholics’ faiths when I disagree with them just isn’t really something I’m interested in.

But, of course, Peters didn’t engage in a substantive debate about John’s factual arguments. Nor did he have the courage to admit he and Santorum just have a different position than the Church. In his eagerness to claim the mantle of Catholicism for his favored candidate, Peters seems not only willing to overlook Santorum’s discrepancies on a wide range of Catholic issues, but also to actively deny that they even exist. Combined with his propensity for putting words in people’s mouths and dishonestly ascribing ulterior motives, this dangerous obfuscation of fact in service of partisan politics damages Peters’s credibility and emblemizes the concerns many of us in the faith and politics have about the Catholic right more broadly.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore, Flickr

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Reflections on the End of the Iraq War

December 27, 2011, 1:49 pm | Posted by

Iraq Soldiers Returning HomeFor a war that spanned nine years and took thousands of American and Iraqi lives and billions of dollars, the events surrounding the end of the Iraq War this month were oddly restrained. As soldiers return from Iraq this holiday season, the official end of the war allows Americans to reflect on the lives lost, the challenges that remain in Iraq and the soldiers that are still fighting in Afghanistan and conflicts around the world.

Below is a media round-up exploring the reactions from people of faith and peace activists across the country:

San Diego resident Fernando Suarez Del Solar, father of a fallen marine, reflects on the homecoming of soldiers and his crusade to ensure that “no more children die…”

“On one hand, I’m happy that so many American military members will be home for Christmas. On the other, many will not be home, including my son,” said Fernando Suarez del Solar.

In March 2003, del Solar’s Marine son, Jesus, stepped on a U.S. cluster bomb and became one of the first casualties of the invasion of Iraq.”

Rev. Chuck Currie on the Christian churches’ response to the Iraq invasion:

The National Council of Churches and nearly every other Christian body in the United States and across the globe opposed the Bush’s administrations rush to war.  But Democratic presidential candidates gearing up for the 2004 and 2008 presidential races – including John Kerry, John Edwards and Hillary Clinton – backed President Bush and the result was nine years of war – nearly 5,000 Americans killed, many more wounded, and tens of thousands of Iraqis killed and wounded.

Tom Hayden at the Los Angeles Times gives thanks to those who opposed the Iraq War from its onset in 2003 and pushes activists to keep demanding an end to the war in Afghanistan:

Now the challenge will be to bring the war in Afghanistan and the drone strikes over the border in Pakistan to an end as quickly as possible. Obama may have convinced himself that these are not “dumb wars” carried out by mindless conservatives, but the PhDs at the Pentagon and the State Department cannot prevent a deepening calamity.

This year, Rep. Lee orchestrated a Democratic National Committee resolution calling for a more rapid Afghan withdrawal, but so far the president has committed only to handing over responsibility for security to Afghan forces by 2014. The peace movement should push for a faster pace.

John Dear, S.J at National Catholic Reporter asks us to reflect on what we can be done differently as America moves forward:

Christmastime invites us to reflect on our nation’s wars and our efforts, however modest, to stop them. We need to reflect upon our work for peace, specifically our work to end the long nightmare of our war in Iraq. What did we do? How can we empower others to speak up for peace? How could we have responded in a more loving, nonviolent spirit? What does the God of peace think about our efforts to make peace? What can we do now to oppose the ongoing U.S. war in Afghanistan and the ever-expanding U.S. war machine?

Mario T. Garcio at National Catholic Reporter believes the Iraq war should serve as a lesson to activists working against the backdrop of potential future conflicts:

Instead of trying to somehow justify the Iraq war, President Obama should have used the removal of the last of U.S. combat troops to reflect on the tragedy of the war and to vow that, at least under his watch, no such unnecessary interventions would take place. In the end, only the majority of us can assure preventing such future wars by our protests and struggles against imperial adventures.

Drew Christiansen, S. J., editor in chief of America, reflects on the responsibility academics, activists and faith leaders have to place judgment, not just critiques, on war:

“The Just War is too often used as an academic tool with no practical or pastoral force. In 1983, the U.S. Catholic bishops urged the public to “say ‘No’ to nuclear war.” In 2003, they warned President Bush that “resort to war would not meet the strict conditions in Catholic teaching for the use of military force.” Yet, once war came, they never condemned the war as unjust. As a political and pastoral tool, public use of the Just War tradition must move from analysis to judgment.”

And most importantly, a call from The Mercury News to not abandon our service men and women as they return home:

“It’s arguable that we failed the Iraqi people, but we must not fail our own. Men and women who fought for us deserve a bright future at home….

The United States’ volunteer army draws heavily on young people of low to middle income who want to serve their country and believe it will benefit them in the long run. So it should. The least we can do is guarantee that their wounds, physical and mental, will be treated and that America’s concern for their well-being does not end the moment they turn in their weapons.”

Peace activists, theologians and everyday American citizens must not become numb to the realities of war. Engaging with our fellow citizens and elected officials on how to prevent these conflicts going forward is the least we can give to the service men and women serving around the world, and returning home, this holiday season.

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Bill O’Reilly Covers “War on Christmas” 3x as Much as Real Wars

December 23, 2011, 1:24 pm | Posted by

Forget cookies, carols and Christmas trees, my favorite holiday tradition is the Religious Right’s “War on Christmas” freakout. Manufacturing national outrage over the fact that a department store greeter said “Happy Holidays’ is a prime example of the conservative culture war strategy: distract from real issues by sensationalizing random anecdotes in service of a national conspiracy theory in which conservative Christians are a minority under siege from the militaristic/multicultural/secular/socialist/atheist/Hollywood “left.”

The key player in this annual political theater is FOX News, and specifically their most popular host Bill O’Reilly. In a stunning display of just how imbalanced Fox’s priorities are, a new report from Media Matters reveals the extent of the FOX obsession with the alleged “War on Christmas.”  So far this month, O’Reilly has spent nearly three times as much air time talking about the “War on Christmas” than he has talking about either of the two actual wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Chart of Bill O'Reilly "War on Christmas" vs Actual Wars Coverage

Media Matters explains that this discrepancy comes even after giving O’Reilly a generous metric:

We used a very broad definition of what constituted Iraq/Afghanistan coverage. Mentions of charities benefiting troops were counted as well as passing references to either war. The longest segment counted towards O’Reilly’s actual war coverage was a report on employees at a defense contractor that manufactures equipment for troops overseas being caught smoking pot and drinking alcohol on their lunch break.

Merry Christmas!

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The End of a Tragedy

December 20, 2011, 2:42 pm | Posted by

On Sunday, the last convoy of U.S. combat troops exited Iraq, ending our nation’s 8-year war in that country. The human consequences of this misguided, unnecessary conflict are staggering – over 100,000 Iraqis and nearly 4,500 American service members killed, millions of Iraqis displaced from their homes, and hundreds of thousands of civilians and soldiers suffering psychological and physical injury.

The Bush administration, hawkish Congressional leaders in both parties and the news media face the harsh judgment of history for telling the world that Iraq constituted a just cause, a grave threat, and an easy win – none of which were true. At the onset of the invasion, more than 70 percent of Americans believed Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the September 11th plot. That was no accident. It was the fruit of one of the most effective propaganda campaigns in American history.

Pleas for caution and peace from the faith community fell on deaf ears in Washington during the run-up to the invasion. And unfortunately, many religious leaders either remained silent or helped build the drumbeat for war. Prominent conservative Christian thinkers such as Chuck Colson and George Weigel, along with numerous influential pastors, all spoke in support of military action. One month after the war began, 87 percent of white evangelicals approved of the decision to invade Iraq. Even in 2006, when sectarian bloodshed and U.S. casualties spiraled out of control, only a minority of weekly church attenders said the war was a mistake.

The abuses and torture at Abu Ghraib prison shocked the nation’s conscience and provided a terrifying testament to the evil that war unleashes. The images of the victims and torturers outraged the faith community. Faithful America and the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, which brought together ideologically and theologically diverse faith leaders, were founded in the aftermath of Abu Ghraib and raised a powerful witness against human rights abuses.

As America’s post-Iraq War era begins, we have an obligation not only to support innocent civilian victims and care for our veterans (who face unemployment, post-traumatic stress and numerous other challenges), but also to learn from our mistakes and reexamine our attitudes toward war. Although our government bears most of the blame, citizens of the most powerful nation in the world have a responsibility to approach war with great reluctance and skepticism, not eagerness and credulity. Clergy have a special obligation to ensure that we learn this lesson.

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